The Venezuelan displacement crisis has continued to grow during the first months of 2019. Now in its fourth year, this is one of the largest displacement crises in the world—3.4 million have fled Venezuela, and the global community is watching to see how the region responds. As affected states convene in Quito to discuss a way forward, they must use the opportunity to harmonize policies and mobilize support for a coordinated, effective response. Refugees International takes stock of recent developments in view of the goals of the Quito Process and recommends national- and regional-level action.
The U.N. estimates that 2019 could see the exodus of some 2.1 million Venezuelans, adding to the 3.3 million who have already fled political and economic turmoil under President Nicolás Maduro.
If those projections hold true, neighboring Colombia will likely receive the lion’s share of refugees, solidifying the country’s role at the front line of the crisis.
Eric Schwartz is the president of Refugees International, and commends Colombia for keeping its borders open and allowing those fleeing Venezuela to access basic services.
“In an awful situation, Colombia is standing up and doing pretty much the right thing.”
But Refugees International warns in a new report that that could change if Colombia fails to get more international support.
Remember, 7 million Colombians remain internally displaced by fighting between the government and FARC rebels. And even though the two sides signed a peace deal in 2017, Colombia has a long way to go to help those whose livelihoods were destroyed by decades of war.
If the Venezuelan refugee issue distracts from that effort, attitudes toward refugees could change.
“In any situation where there are large numbers of people fleeing and trying to seek refuge, there are challenges with respect to host communities, and I think the government of Colombia could very much use the financial support of the international community in addressing what some of those host community concerns might be.”
To do that, Schwartz suggests those donating to the refugee response also could help Colombia ensure its domestic peace process is successful.
And crucially, Colombia can’t be left to deal with the refugee crisis by itself, lest a go-it-alone approach to migration prevail.
“We know what the worst case looks like. All you have to do is look in other parts of the world where governments are shutting borders. It means that people who are at risk suffer much more significantly, that more people die and that governments use hate-filled rhetoric to stoke polarization.”
A Refugees International team traveled to Colombia to bear witness to the experience of displaced Venezuelans. But they quickly discovered that it is impossible to view the Venezuelan displacement crisis on its own when there are already 7.7 million internally displaced people in Colombia amid ongoing internal armed conflict.
After 50 years of brutal war, the peace agreement between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - People’s Army is cause to celebrate. Women and girls have long been on the frontlines of this war – as combatant, victim, and peacemaker. What they and all conflict victims stand to gain from peace is monumental, given that entire generations have known nothing but war. However, the challenges to a sustainable peace in Colombia cannot be underestimated as ongoing conflict and violence continue to threaten this population.
Refugees International is deeply saddened to learn of the death of Wilmar Córdoba, son of Marino Córdoba, the president of the National Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians (AFRODES). Wilmar was assassinated yesterday, October 24, 2016, following months of threats against AFRODES and its dedicated leaders and staff.
While today’s Nobel Peace Prize announcement importantly acknowledges Colombia’s considerable efforts to end its 50-year civil war, the future of the agreement and more importantly, the future of the Colombian people is now in question.
On August 24, the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias Colombianas – Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP) came to a peace agreement after negotiations that lasted nearly five years. It is hoped that the peace deal will mark an end to some of the bloodshed from battles between the government, paramilitaries, and FARC guerrillas.
Many are heralding this as an historic moment for the South American nation, host to more than seven million of its own displaced citizens, making it the second-largest internal displacement crisis in the world after Syria. If and when the Colombian people vote “yes” on peace, Colombia’s humanitarian stakeholders should not let their enthusiasm obscure the continued challenges the country will face – challenges that could imperil the peace agreement’s viability at any time.
For years, Ecuador has been the destination for tens of thousands of Colombians seeking international protection. Fifty years after war broke out, an estimated 950 Colombians continue to cross the border into Ecuador each month, fleeing paramilitaries, guerilla groups, and organized gangs. Through its own refugee processing system, Ecuador has recognized roughly 60,500 Colombian refugees as of 2013 and hosts over 170,000 asylum seekers, 98 percent of whom are Colombian.